19 April 2023
Women, a novel concept, but one that has been taken too far?


The subheading of this article is the position, more or less, that one player is asked to represent when playing historical sort-of wargame Votes for Women. 

We review Votes for Women in the upcoming issue 78 of Tabletop Gaming.  You'll have to pick up the magazine when it goes on sale on Friday to find out what we thought.

Until then, enjoy this talk with the designer of suffrage mega-hit Votes for Women, Tory Brown, about creating a game that truly represents the clash for women's rights.


Hello! Would you mind introducing yourself to our readers? Who are you and what are you known for?
Hi there! I am Tory Brown, the designer of Votes for Women! I am a first time game designer and in my day job I’m a political communications strategist for America’s largest labor union. I believe deeply in the power of social movements to create a more just world and I’m inspired by stories of people who, with all their flaws and mistakes, still managed to make the world a better place.

What is votes for women? How do you introduce it?
Votes for Women is a board game that invites players to either join the American Women’s Suffrage Movement or oppose the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. It’s a 2-sided game that can be played competitively or cooperatively with 1-4 players and takes about an hour to an hour and a half to play. In order to win, Suffrage must lobby Congress to pass the 19th Amendment and 36 states must ratify it. Opposition must either stymie progress in Congress or get 13 states to reject the amendment. 

What was the inspiration for making the game? What was that initial spark?
The first inkling for the game came when I read an article in 2019 about plans to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment’s passage. I knew the basics of suffrage movement story from a women’s history course I took in college, and knew the narrative had awesome potential as a board game. The suffragist were scrappy and faced incredibly long odds, and over the course of 7 decades these activists reshaped American society, government, and the very definition of what it meant to be a woman. Who wouldn’t want to tell that story? 

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Mechanically it’s got a war game at its heart – tell us about choosing this as the mechanic behind the metaphor?
Votes for Woman is a territorial control game on a map of 48 American states because that’s what is required in Article 5 of the American Constitution to pass an amendment in 1920. Players build power in the states (via wooden cubes) because social movements require organizers to build power in the states. It is a card-driven game because CDGs force tough decisions with limited resources just like political activists are forced to make. Also, my research into the people, events, and forces generated so much content (including the beautiful artwork, artifacts, and photos) that I needed multiple decks to include as much of it as possible. Essentially, the form of a war game followed the function of telling this story about a major conflict in American society. A non-violent, women-led, loooong conflict, but a conflict nonetheless.


Tell us about the historical figures we’re introducing – are there any stand out characters? How have you linked their actions to the world of the game?
 I intentionally created space for women that aren’t often highlighted in popular tellings of the American suffrage story. So instead of an Elizabeth Cady Stanton card, you can play Lucy Stone, a suffragist who split from Stanton & Susan B Anthony over the 15th amendment (which is one key pivot point in the game.) Particularly effective organizers usually earn a button for the player. A lot of figures build power in their home regions, so Sojourner Truth builds power in the Midwest as does Frances Harper in the Mid-Atlantic. Jeanette Rankin of Montana was the only woman to vote in favour of suffrage when she was the first woman elected to Congress and her card event drops a ton of cubes in the Plains and a column in Congress. Maud Wood Park was an incredibly effective lobbyist so her card event adds a full third of the support needed in Congress. I’m particularly attached to Mary Church Terrell, a pacifist from Washington, DC who later took part in sit ins to desegregate restaurants in her 80s. Her event text instructs players to roll two 8 sided die and place that many cubes, up to 16 cubes, in states of the player’s choice! 
I also really like the Emma Goldman card in the opposition deck. Goldman was an anarchist who opposed suffrage because she saw it as a waste of time when what American really needed was a worker revolution. Showing this kind of resistance to suffrage from the left is a part of exploring the nuance in the opposition. Her event text builds power for opposition because we see still the status quo exploit divisions, whatever their ideological origins, for its own advantage. 

It’s an interesting position to put players in the ‘opposition’ seat – did you have any thoughts about doing this?
From the very beginning I envisioned the game as Suffrage versus Opposition (or Anti-Suffrage which is more historically accurate but less lyrical.) I learned a ton building the opposition deck and I think there’s a lot to learn from organized opposition to social movements in history. Whether it’s the economic interests and ideological motivations at play or the very nature of how the status quo operates to preserve privilege, there are lessons to apply to our current moment. I’ll be honest, in a hobby where players regularly play the losing side of conflicts like the American Civil War and World War II, I didn’t expect people to have such big feelings about playing as opposition to Suffrage. But I’m so grateful it’s one of the ways Votes for Women is connecting with their hearts and minds. I hope it gets people thinking about WHY it feels so bad to sit in the opposition seat and what it would have meant for opposition to win in 1920 or would mean in 2024. 


We really like the variety of play styles and modes that the game supports – literally covering everything from solo, through co-op, out to head to head or multiplayer. Can you tell us about designing for all these scenarios, and why the generosity of it?
The many modes of play are out of respect for the many kinds of players out there. Not everyone has or wants to play against an opponent. And despite all my earnest appeals about the value of playing as opposition, many players just don’t want to and I don’t want to force anyone into something that’s too uncomfortable to enjoy.
To design the different scenarios, my first step was getting the 2 player game to be as efficient and effective as possible. I owe so much to the many, many playtesters who spent their free time playing rougher versions of the game to help clarify rules and ensure balance between the sides. The next step in the process was building the “oppobot” which is based off the opposition deck but smaller and with adjusted text. I owe a lot to my developer (and publisher, and longtime friend) Kevin Bertram for putting in about a thousand or so play tests with the oppobot to make sure it worked and still captured the push and pull of the competitive game. 

Why did we need this game in the world?
I hope Votes for Women brings more people into wargaming. It introduces a few basic mechanics with a relatively easy to learn design that can serve as an “on-ramp” to more complex games. I hope the theme of Votes for Women inspires designers and publishers to expand the scope of game themes so more people might be interested in coming to the table. 
I also hope Votes for Women brings more people into movements. I can see the kind of world we could be living in, a connected society that upholds dignity for each person no matter where they live or what they look like. That world is attainable if enough people join together. I’ve interacted with so many board gamers who are thoughtful, kind, and generous, and I hope everyone who plays Votes for Women will consider joining an organization, a cause, or a movement to become a part of making the world - or just their corner of it - a better place. 

What’s next for you as a designer?
I don’t know what’s next! It took years to make Votes for Women happen and I’ve been gobsmacked by the reaction now that’s finally out in the world. I’m happily joining podcasts, livestreams, conventions and just talking about it wherever I am invited. Some have suggested a follow up game about the Equal Rights Amendment, the failed attempt to guarantee equality in the Constitution. I’ve also been thinking about other movements, including the American labor movement which, like the suffrage movement, provides a rich history and some fascinating characters to work with. The opportunity to bring more people into politics through fun and games is hard to turn my back on. There’s not only so much need for more people to get involved, there’s so much opportunity do our part to create a more perfect union. Who wouldn’t want to join something like that?


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